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I was on a panel yesterday at a conference of Economists for Peace and Security, and one of my panel mates was Ron Unz, the contrarian conservative who has had quite an interesting and varied career. His big passion these days is the minimum wage, which he has written about with some regularity. On yesterday’s panel, he spent some time on the substantive case, on which I don’t need to be sold. But he also made a very interesting political argument: that a really big increase might be more likely to pass than a more modest one, because it would potentially have a larger and more bipartisan constituency behind it.

On the surface it seems totally counterintuitive that a minimum wage increase to $12 an hour (Unz’s position) could possibly win more support than an increase to $9 an hour, which is what the White House proposes. And maybe it couldn’t. It would probably be such sticker shock to the overclass that they’d dig in their heels. And anyway all this is academic, alas, as long as Congress is filled with these pseudo-populist yahoos who wave Bibles at $25,000-a-year earners while they do the bidding of $25,000-a-day earners.

But Unz says this. An increase to $9 an hour will help only those at the very bottom of the wage scale, and those at the very bottom of the wage scale tend to be Democratic voters, because they’re more likely to be black or Latino (or maybe single white women). So naturally, only Democrats will support it.

Instead, he argues that a bigger increase will have a much greater likelihood of having a positive impact on wages up the scale. There are loads of jobs, jobs that can’t be outsourced—home health care, food services, sales, office and administrative support, non-construction laborers, and more—that he said yesterday could be positively impacted by as much as $5,000 a year, which for a $25,000-a-year job is a pretty hefty increase.

GOP Fail

The High-Stakes VA Recount

The Democratic candidate for attorney general in Virginia is poised to win by less than 1 percent, giving Democrats the run of the state for the first time in more than 40 years.

Now this is very interesting indeed: It suddenly looks as if the Democrat may win the attorney general election in Virginia. It seems they found a missing ballot box from Richmond on Monday afternoon, and Mark Herring vaulted to a 115-vote lead over Mark Obenshain, out of 2.2 million cast. The counting of the provisional ballots is supposed to end Tuesday, and then there will be a recount, if the tally is within 1 percent (it is) and if the loser requests it. But as of Monday afternoon, those following the proceedings closely said it seems highly unlikely that Obenshain can make up the difference, narrow as it is.

VA Governor

Cliff Owen

Is this a big deal? You bet it is. If Herring wins, the Democrats will have the run of Virginia. The governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and both senators will be Democrats. In Virginia! That hasn’t happened since 1969, which was a completely different political universe. One of those senators, Harry F. Byrd Jr., was a thoroughgoing segregationist. So that’s good news for the Democratic side.

And likewise it’s terrible news for the Tea Party. The Virginia GOP went ultra-hard right this year—instead of primaries, it held a nominating convention over-attended by ideologues who chose the medieval Ken Cuccinelli, about whom we know; the Bronze Age lieutenant governor candidate E.W. Jackson, who made a series of outlandish and reactionary comments and got mopped up by double digits; and Obenshain. He of course underwent far less national observation and scrutiny than Cuccinelli did, and he drew far fewer cameras than the bombastic Jackson, but his views are essentially indistinguishable from the gubernatorial candidate’s—transvaginal probes, criminalization of any failure by a woman to report a miscarriage to the police, hating on gay people, the whole ball of fetid, intolerant wax.

Prognosis

End Times for Obama?

The Obamacare website situation is bad—but it’s not a make-or-break moment for this presidency. It’s just another round of the media’s trumped-up crises.

It’s damn near end times for Barack Obama, to hear some tell it.

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Angela Lewis/AP

There’s a new Pew poll that has him at 41 percent approval, 53 disapproval, which Pew notes ominously is only five percentage points better than George W. Bush’s at this point in his term. (Hurricane Katrina had happened in August of Bush’s fifth year.) Conservative columnists are chuckling and clucking and tweeting to beat the band. Centrist journalist Mark Halperin, on MSNBC yesterday, declared that Obama had lost the media, which was now cheering against the success of the Affordable Care Act and just wants to see… well, people go without insurance, I guess. If everything—everything!—isn’t fixed by Nov. 30, we’re looking at a presidency that is going to collapse into utter disaster.

It’s obvious enough why conservatives would be saying this. They’ve wanted Obama to fail from the start, and they’ve certainly wanted the health-care bill to fail from the moment of its passage. Journalists like Halperin say these things not for ideological reasons, but temperamental ones: In this Halperinesque/Politico-esque world view, politics is less about people’s lives than it is about who is displaying mastery of the game and who is being mastered at any given moment (of course, seeing politics so insistently through that lens is a kind of ideology of its own, but we’ll let that pass). To that group of mainstream journalists, how Obama handles the current crisis will determine whether the administration will survive or whether he might as well just resign now.

Swing and Miss

The Meaning of CBS & Benghazi

‘60 Minutes’ is ‘reviewing’ its Benghazi report. But even if what the guy is saying is true, so what?

So now, CBS is reviewing that 60 Minutes report by Lara Logan on Benghazi, the one with security man Morgan Jones (real name Dylan Davies) telling the FBI one thing about the attacks and CBS another, needless to say handing the sexier (and possibly untrue) version to CBS.

If you haven’t been following this, you can catch up quickly by heading over to the site of Media Matters for America, which has been on this like white on rice since the report aired and is updating it daily. MMFA has done a terrific job.

But of course a big outfit like CBS can try to ignore Media Matters, as it did for days. It even ignored The Washington Post, which ran a story casting doubt on Jones/Davies’s claims a week ago. But then The New York Times started sniffing around, and you can’t ignore the Times.

US Consulate in Benghazi

The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames on September 11, 2012. (Esam Al-Fetori/Reuters, via Landov )

Blue Virginia?

The Wrong Election Takeaways

No, Cuccinelli’s narrow defeat isn’t a blow to Obamacare—or a sure sign Virginia is going blue. And seriously? Christie’s smashing 22-point win doesn’t mean he’ll beat Hillary in 2016.

The conventional wisdom on New Jersey: Huge Chris Christie win sets him up to steamroll his way to the Republican nomination in 2016, proving that a more mainstream conservative can win in a blue state. The conventional wisdom on Virginia: Ken Cuccinelli’s stinging loss in a purple state in an off-off-year election against Terry McAuliffe, a flawed Democratic candidate, shows not only that he was too extreme but also that Virginia is inching its way into the Democratic column. As the Times put it in its headline, “McAuliffe Win Points to Virginia Changes.”

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Win McNamee/Getty

Well, God invented conventional wisdom so people like me could beat it down. In New Jersey, Christie doesn’t emerge from his victory nearly as strong as he appears to. And the Virginia outcome isn’t really very strong for Democrats, especially down the ballot. No, I’m not buying into the right-wing spin that Cuccinelli’s narrow margin of defeat really represents some kind of loss for Obamacare. It does not. What I’m saying is something different. But let’s start with Joisey.

Barbara Buono, Christie’s Democratic opponent, volunteered for a suicide mission when she agreed to run against him. Surfing on an ocean of media hagiography, Christie seemed unbeatable just when it was time for Democrats to declare themselves. Buono couldn’t raise money, couldn’t attract much media, couldn’t get anyone to believe she could make it close, let alone win.

Her Aim Is True

Next Year's Big Election: Kentucky

I’ll have more to say later today and tomorrow on last night’s results. But let’s start the morning, now that that election is over, thinking about the next one. A year from today, we’ll wake up to find out who’s in control of the United States Senate—and to see what new faces will emerge there (and which old faces the new ones will be sending off to pasture).

One old face not looking so hot right now is Mitch McConnell’s. He’s being challenged first by a tea-party primary opponent, Matt Bevin. They’re already slugging it out, for a primary that will happen next May 20. McConnell is way ahead at this point, but Bevin has money (a bell manufacturer, of all odd things; I’d like to be at the Courier-Journal writing the headlines if he wins). But McConnell’s more serious opponent is the Democratic front-runner, Alison Lundergan Grimes. I’ve written about her before. Grimes has mostly been leading McConnell in polls. They’re often within the margin of error, but still, they show she’s a strong contender, they ensure that she’ll be able to raise plenty of money, and so on.

I got my hands on a brief “state of the race” memo written by Grimes senior adviser Jonathan Hurst, and it makes some points worth keeping in mind. For example:

*In 2008, while John McCain was beating Barack Obama in Kentucky by 16 points, McConnell held on to win by just five over Bruce Lunsford. That means about 100,000 voters pulled for McCain and then bothered to switch over and back Lunsford. Never a good thing. And since this is not a presidential year, there will be no one at the top of the ticket to get large numbers of Republicans out to the polls. McConnell will be the top of the ticket.

Surprise!

Liberals' Quiet Revolution

Local elections were taking place all over America on Tuesday night. From anti-coal measures to minimum wage hikes it was a great night for liberals.

The voters of Virginia and New Jersey weren’t the only ones holding some tea leaves in their hands last night. All across the country in obscure races you may never have heard about, voters were sending other messages, and a lot of them were surprisingly liberal.

Liberal Vote

(Left) 16-year veteran skycap Fred Harris prepares multiple baggage tags for a traveler at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Wash. (Right) Russ Childers, left, of Seattle, sits among other protesters as they demonstrate against trains carrying coal for export moving through Washington state. (Elaine Thompson/AP; Ted S. Warren/AP)

Let’s start in the small Seattle suburb called SeaTac, where voters approved a minimum wage hike to a whopping $15 an hour for most workers at Seattle’s main airport. Washington state already has the country’s highest minimum wage, at $9.19 an hour, but fifteen bucks is a different order of magnitude: It’s more than twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25. The vote comes as unions and others are trying to whip up support for a big national minimum wage hike. Hard to say how much momentum derives from a few thousand votes in small town, but at the very least the eye-popping figure opens the door to a national conversation that many on the left have been dying to have ever since Barack Obama mentioned a minimum-wage increase in the 2012 State of the Union address (which I don't think he's mentioned at all since).

Also out in Washington, 70 or so miles north in Bellingham, a county council election, of all things, turned into a national referendum on big coal vs. environmentalists. It looks like the green team is winning. Whatcom County is considering the construction of a big coal-export facility, which would be the largest on the West Coast. The county council is nonpartisan, and members have some duties that prevent them from taking outright positions on issues, but there were two factions competing here, and it became clear that one faction backed the plant and the other opposed. Coal and energy companies spent $200,000 on the race, while green groups spent around $500,000. From early returns it looked as if the greens would win.

States of Disunion

Colorado’s Strange Secession Vote

Voters in a corner of Colorado will vote Tuesday on whether to secede from the state. The movement will fail, but the underlying discord in American politics is only going to grow.

You can have your Chris Christies and Bill de Blasios and Terry McAuliffes. Oh, those are all interesting races, and they all tell us something or other about the current mood. But Tuesday night, I’m going to be watching Colorado. Individual pols come and go, but what seems to be happening out in the Rocky Mountain West is the start of a new and lamentable trend that I think may be with us for a long time in American politics.

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The Daily Beast

Eleven of Colorado’s 64 counties want to secede from the state, and there is a referendum on the ballot to that effect. It will, in all likelihood, pass. Only the voters in those 11 counties are voting on the question. Ten are contiguous, in the northeast corner of the state. In their dream world, they say sayonara to Denver and become “North Colorado.” The eleventh county is across the way, in the northwest corner. Since the U.S. Constitution mandates that states be contiguous, Moffat County would just sign up with Wyoming.

These things have popped up before. I covered one 20 years ago, when Staten Islanders voted two-to-one to break off from New York City. The voters always approve these things. Of course, Staten Island is still a borough of New York City, which tells us that although they always pass, they always amount to nothing. This one will amount to nothing too, in the short term. Congress has to approve a new state, and that isn’t going to happen.

The Macker

Virginia Is for Sanity Lovers

I guess anything can still happen, but it sure looks like Terry McAuliffe is going to be the next governor of Virginia. It's worth noting that this breaks a very long-observed historical trend in the commonwealth. In every gubernatorial election sincce 1981, Virginians have elected as their governor the standard-bearer of the opposite party from the man who won the presidential election the year before.

Virginia Governor Race

Steve Helber/AP

So it's always been as if Virginia looked at what the country did one year and decided to do the opposite the next. It even more often than not did the opposite not only of what the country did, but of what it did with its own electoral votes the previous year: Reagan-Chuck Robb, Reagan-Jerry Baliles, Bush Sr.-Wilder, Bush Jr.-Warner, Bush Jr.-Kaine, Obama-McDonnell. So: what's this mean?

Maybe not a lot. These things just happen. McAuliffe is benefiting of course from the presence in the contest of that libertarian guy, without whom Ken Cuccinelli would probably be winning. But his presence itself is a reflection of where the Republican Party and the conservative movement are these days: From a libertarian perspective, even the stone-age Cuccinelli isn't pure enough.

Obstacle Course

The Obamacare Obstructionists

Republicans at all levels of government have put up roadblocks to undermine the Affordable Care Act rollout. It’s an orchestrated resistance with only one very ugly precedent.

So we’re a month into the Obamacare era. What does your average American know about it? That the website is mess, and some number of Americans have suddenly lost their coverage after Barack Obama assured them that wouldn’t happen. These things are true, and a person would be quite wrong to deny this is deeply problematic.

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Bill Clark/Getty

But I wonder how many Americans know the other side of the coin. There are already numerous success stories out there. And then there’s the side of the story that has certainly received coverage but not nearly as much as it deserves to, which is the way—did I say way? Ways—the Republican Party is trying to make sure it fails. Todd Purdum wrote a piece for Politico yesterday on the GOP’s “sabotage” of the law. It was a terrific article, but he didn’t say the half of it.

All across the country, Republican governors and insurance commissioners have actively and directly blocked efforts to make the law work. In August, the Obama administration announced that it had awarded contracts to 105 “navigators” to help guide people through their new predicaments and options. There were local health-care providers, community groups, Planned Parenthood outposts, and even business groups. Again—people and groups given the job, under an existing federal law, to help people understand that law.

Bush Playbook

The Defiant Obamacare Defense

Instead of offering his usual concessions Wednesday, Obama borrowed from Cheney—and hit back at claims he’s forcing Americans to pick ‘Ferrari’ over ‘Ford’ health-care plans.

President Obama’s speech at Faneuil Hall was probably his most passionate and unapologetic defense of the health-care law in ages, maybe since its passage. At times like this in the past, Old Mr. Reasonable has hemmed and hawed, ceding that his opponents had a point, but insisting—reasonably, of course—that he had a better one if you just stopped and thought about it. But Wednesday afternoon in Boston gave us a different Obama. He took a page out of the Bush playbook or, dare I say it, even the Cheney one. If things are going a little rocky at the moment, it doesn’t matter; cede nothing. Stick to plan. No matter the merits or facts, it’s the only approach that our political culture respects.

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President Barack Obama speaks about health insurance at Faneuil Hall in Boston on Wednesday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The money moment of the speech, of course, came when he answered the questions raised by the NBC report Tuesday. According to NBC, people who had bought insurance on the private market who don’t have either employer or government coverage were getting hammered by Obamacare. They were getting letters telling them their coverage had expired and then finding that the new coverage available to them was going to cost more. It flew in the face, said NBC’s Lisa Myers, of Obama’s promise that if you had coverage now and liked it, nothing would happen to you.

She was right. He shouldn’t have said it. And in Boston he didn’t exactly say, “I shouldn’t have said it.” But he did turn it around and say for that small percentage of people, the coverage they’re going to end up with is better! It also just might be cheaper, he said, and they are going to have peace of mind: “They can’t use allergies or pregnancy or sports injury or the fact that you’re a woman to charge you more. They can’t do that anymore!”

Be Adults!

Enough Already on HealthCare.gov

Republicans certainly deserved a few weeks of ‘toldja so!’ about the site’s awful rollout. But why can’t they start helping their constituents figure it out now, as Democrats did with Bush’s Medicare Part D?

OK. I’ve officially had enough of this Republican gloating about HealthCare.gov. Yes, it was a major and inexcusable fiasco, as I wrote last week. So they were entitled to a week of “we told ya so.” Or even two. But really, it’s practically a month now. Enough already. I know that we expect no decency from these people, so this will sound naïve, but truly, what they should be doing now is helping their constituents figure it all out. That’s what the Democrats did in a similar situation.

OBAMACARE WEBSITE

Bloomberg/Getty

I refer, of course, to the Medicare Part D implementation in late 2005 and early 2006. That was the big prescription drug bill passed in 2003. You remember—it’s the one where the Republicans didn’t have the votes in the House, even though they controlled the House, and Speaker Tom DeLay held the floor open for 15 minutes after the bell rang as his lieutenants went around and badgered and threatened some GOP members until they changed their vote from nay to aye. My, how at home DeLay would have been with the Tea Partiers.

Anyhow. Most Democrats voted against the bill. In the House just 16 of 203 Democratic members voted yes. In the Senate, however, 11 of 48 Democrats voted for the new Bush entitlement. First, let’s just stop right there. Could you imagine 16 and 11 Republicans ever voting for an Obama legislative priority, something that was clearly Obama’s “baby” in the same way that the Part D bill was Bush’s? There’d be no end to the slobbering over Republicans for being so reasonable. As I recall, the Democrats were attacked at the time for not supporting the bill enough.

Farm Bill

The Republicans’ Cruelest Cut

As conference committee talks begin, the GOP isn’t trying to cut $40 billion from SNAP just to save money. It wants to punish the poorest among us. By Michael Tomasky.

What’s the single worst thing the Obama-era Republicans have done? Tough one, I know.

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Getty

But spare me a moment here—plus a thousand words down the page—and I think maybe you’ll agree with me that the single worst thing the Obama-era Republicans have done is try to push through a $40 billion cut to the food-stamps program. It’s just unspeakably cruel. They usually say publicly that it’s about saving money. But sometimes someone—one congressman in particular—lets slip the real reason: They want to punish poor people. The farm bill, which includes the food-stamp program, goes to conference committee next week. That’s where, the cliché has it, the two sides are supposed to “iron out their differences.” The only thing the Democrats on this committee should do with an iron is run it across the Republicans’ scowling faces.

The basic facts on the program. Its size fluctuates with the economy—when more people are working, the number of those on food stamps goes down. This, of course, isn’t one of those times. So right now the SNAP program, as it’s called, is serving nearly 48 million people in 23 million households. The average monthly individual benefit is $133, or about $4.50 a day. In 2011, 45 percent of recipients were children. Forty-one percent live in households where at least one person works. More than 900,000 are veterans. Large numbers are elderly or disabled or both.

Hardly a Skirmish

No Country for Old Moderates

It’s not ‘moderates’ vs. ‘conservatives. The two opposing Republican sides, if they really are opposing, are ‘radical’ and ‘conservative.’ And only one side is fighting. The other is rolling over, says Michael Tomasky.

The more I think about this Republican “civil war,” the less it looks like war to me. It often gives the appearance of being war because these Tea Party people march into the arena with a lot of fire, brimstone, and kindred pyrotechnics that suggest conflict. But what, really, in hard policy terms, are these two sides arguing about? Practically nothing. It’s a disagreement chiefly over tactics and intensity. That’s a crucial point, and so much of the media don’t understand it. But I’m here to tell you, whenever you read an article that makes a lot of hay about this “war” and then goes on to describe the Republican factions as “moderate” and “conservative,” turn the page or click away. You are either in the hands of an idiot or someone intentionally misleading you.

USA TEA PARTY

Members of the Tea Party rally outside the U.S. Capitol to pressure Republicans to make further budget cuts to the Federal budget in Washington, DC, USA on 06 April 2011. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA via Landov)

What’s going on presents many of the outward signs of political warfare. Insurgent radical extremists are challenging already very conservative incumbents whose thought and deed crimes are that they are conservative only 80- or 90-something percent of the time instead of 100 (or 110, preferably). Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), American Conservative Union 2012 rating of 92, being challenged? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell? He got 100 percent in 2012!  Hey, I was joking about that 110!

So sure, running primaries against people like this can be called warlike acts. But a real war has two sides who believe different things and are willing to fight to the death for them. In this war, that description applies only to one side.

Inexcusable

The GOP’s Moral Failures

The failures of the health-care roll out were unacceptable, and the President’s speech didn’t offer much clarity. But, writes Michael Tomasky, they're nothing compared to the GOP's disgraceful opposition.

So nobody’s more frustrated than Barack Obama by the problems with healthcare.gov over the last couple of weeks, as he repeated two or three time in his Rose Garden address on Monday? First of all, I doubt that’s true. He has health insurance and, as far as we know, no preexisting conditions. There is bound to be some person out there with no insurance and a body full of cancer who is more frustrated than Obama.

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama speaks about the Affordable Care Act alongside health care professionals and people affected by the new legislation at the White House in Washington on October 21, 2013. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Second, if he is that frustrated, I’d really love to know what he was doing about this in August and September. Was he calling the people in charge of this operation into the Oval Office and saying to them: “Okay, look. The one thing, people: This goddamn thing has to work. It has to work, and it has to be simple. This is my signal accomplishment, and it has my name on it, and will have my name on it forever. So show me. Right now.”

Maybe he did do that. I don’t know for a fact that he did not. But still, something tells me he did not. Democrats don’t tend to be whip-crackers. One thing I did admire about Rudy Giuliani back when I covered him: He scared the hair off his agency chiefs’ and precinct commanders’ backs. He’d call them into the mayor’s office and lean toward them and growl: “Why isn’t this fixed? I thought I told you last month to find $500,000 more in savings. Why is the crime rate still high on this corner? What the hell are you doing about it?” And usually, it worked.

About the Author

Author headshot

Michael Tomasky

The Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky is also editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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